It was midway through the evening of April 27, a few minutes after Scott Erickson had thrown the first no-hitter by a Minnesota Twin in 27 years and the first ever by a pitcher for any team in the Metrodome. Minnesota manager Tom Kelly, not one for laughs but a regular Robin Williams compared with Erickson, said, "C'mon, Scotty, try to smile." Erickson did, for a second.
A little later, at his press conference following his 6-0 win over Milwaukee, Erickson answered questions with the animation of a man who had just pitched five innings in an intrasquad game. Then, as he sat at his locker, he shook his head and said, "Four——walks."
It was all typical Erickson behavior. Whether he pitches a no-hitter or gets shelled, he is distant, determined, stubborn and unexcitable. He does things his way and cares not what anyone thinks. He wears black to the park on days he pitches (teammate Kevin Tapani calls each Erickson outing the Day of Death), sits alone at the end of the bench between innings and doesn't enjoy visits to the mound from his catcher, manager or pitching coach.
But the 26-year-old Erickson does enjoy being with, and talking to, his mother, Stephanie, who lives in Sunnyvale, Calif., near where he grew up. She was one of the few from whom he heard within 24 hours of the no-no. "Not many know my phone number," he says.
Stephanie was watching the game thanks to a satellite dish Scott bought her in 1990. When calls from friends started coming around the seventh inning, she didn't answer. "I didn't want anything to interfere with my concentration," she says. "I work hard during his games. I was O.K. until the end of the eighth. Then the heart started pumping. The ninth took so long. It was like...just do it!"
Erickson, a righthander, walked two hitters with two out in the ninth before inducing Greg Vaughn to fly out to end the game. Shortstop Pat Meares and leftfielder Alex Cole nearly collided on the play, but Cole made the grab. "I must have woken up 95 times that night to make sure he made that catch," says Stephanie, who also saw her son's expressionless face during the press conference. "It's all right," she explains. "He's always been a very calm person, but he's competitive. It was still business for him. After games he's able to kick back with his friends and relax."
But recently, relaxing has been hard for Erickson. After going 8-4 as a rookie in 1990, he helped lead the Twins to the world championship in '91 with a record of 20-8. Then in '92 he slipped to 13-12, and last season he led the majors in losses (19), hits allowed (266) and runs allowed (138). As a result he has been criticized by both Twin management and the press. "They don't talk about the positives," says Erickson, who entered his no-hit game with a 1-3 record and a 7.48 ERA. "If you do something bad, it's always on the front page."
Last Thursday morning he was on the front page for having done something good. More than 40 of his pitches were thrown harder than the hardest pitch thrown by Milwaukee's Jaime Navarro, another righthander, who throws hard. Erickson has a sharp, biting slider and a sinking fastball that is consistently thrown in the low 90s. Thus, the surprise wasn't so much that he threw a no-hitter but that he has been hit so hard for so long.
"He told me the best part was how happy his teammates were," says Stephanie. "He might not have looked happy, but for him, making his teammates happy was more important."